Increasing awareness of menopause in dentistry

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Increasing awareness of menopause in dentistry

According to various sources, many menopausal women consider leaving the dental profession owing to a lack of support and understanding from their employers or managers. (Image: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock)

LONDON, UK: The hormonal changes that women experience in the menopause may cause cognitive, physical and psychological symptoms, and these are well established. However, the effects of the menopause on women in the workplace are still poorly documented and understood, and the topic is frequently stigmatised. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been strong interest in educating the dental community about the challenges that menopausal women face in the workplace and in offering employers advice on how to support them.

Symptoms of the menopause vary and may include hot flushes, brain fog, low mood—including depression—and insomnia. As a consequence, a woman going through the menopause may feel daytime fatigue and have difficulty concentrating. Commenting on employers’ growing interest in managing the menopause, Vicky Kitney, from human resources firm Peninsula, said in a press release: “With the growing awareness of the need to support women with menopausal symptoms, we are seeing a steady stream of enquiries from dental practices about this issue. These account for a small but significant number of cases, and the trend is increasing.”

The effects of the menopause can last from a couple of years to over a decade. Since 77% of the dental team in the UK are women, including nearly 52% of dentists, 93% of dental hygienists and dental therapists, and 98% of dental nurses, it seems appropriate and necessary to discuss how the menopause can affect work performance. This would be helpful not only for improving staff morale but also for retaining skilled workers and for recruiting new staff more effectively. Concerningly, data shows that many women consider leaving the dental profession as a consequence of the menopause and the lack of support shown in the workplace.

“Research has shown that 10% of women leave their jobs and many more are reducing their hours or passing up promotions because of their menopausal symptoms. Ensuring colleagues feel supported is an important part of addressing this concern. It should also help in meeting the overall commitments set out in National Health Service England’s Long Term Workforce Plan, which emphasises the need to retain valued employees by encouraging them to stay in the workplace,” noted Debbie Herbst, a dento-legal adviser at the Dental Defence Union.

“Ten percent of women leave their jobs and many more are reducing their hours or passing up promotions”—Debbie Herbst, Dental Defence Union

Many existing laws in place that regulate working conditions for menopausal employees are vague, and there is limited literature on the effects that the menopause can have on members of the dental team. However, many organisations and dental practices are now considering adopting a policy that sets out how to support staff during the menopause. This also comes as a response to the increasing number of legal cases related to the menopause. Data shows that the number of menopause-related employment tribunals has doubled in recent years.

Promoting a supportive work culture

Paving the way for a more supportive work culture, the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) launched a menopause policy in March 2022 to help support staff experiencing symptoms in the workplace. In an interview with Dental Tribune International, Jacqui Elsden, president of the BADN, stated: “I think it is really important for employers to understand what is being experienced. If an employee feels that she is listened to and understood, it makes a great difference, and she will do everything she can to perform her work in the best possible way.”

Elsden also noted that, although the menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life, it is a taboo topic. Since previous generations were mute on this topic, women often do not have sufficient knowledge and awareness of the menopause themselves.

Improving working conditions

High temperature, humidity, poor ventilation, uncomfortable work uniforms, noise and a lack of access to quiet or restful spaces all contribute to exacerbating the effects of the menopause in the workplace. To improve working conditions for women undergoing the menopause, employers could consider workplace adjustments such as the installation of air conditioning or the use of fans, the training of staff members about the menopause and the introduction of flexible working hours. Additionally, dental practices should foster open communication about the menopause and offer mental well-being support for menopausal women.

“Fostering an open, inclusive environment where employees feel they can raise concerns about how the menopause is affecting them with no stigma or embarrassment will help practices in becoming menopause-friendly employers,” Kitney noted.

The benefits of adopting a menopause policy in the workplace include lower sickness absence and employee turnover as well as increased engagement and loyalty.

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